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Stay zipped

Brian Taylor | 13:53 UK time, Thursday, 17 April 2008

By accident, I believe we may have discovered a new form of parliamentary discourse.

Wendy Alexander rose, stared at the first minister and declared: "I have no further questions." Majestic.

I won't say I felt like some watcher of the skies. But one or two on the Labour backbenches were certainly glancing at each other with a wild surmise as they contemplated their leader, silent, by choice, upon a peak in Darien.

This could be hot. Want to avoid a new outbreak of ministerial waffle? Here's the answer. Don't ask any questions. Maintain radio silence. Persist in a policy of glorious inactivity. Stay zipped.

Now there will be a few Luddites who insist upon the old ways. At Holyrood today, both Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen showed a lamentable determination to deploy their full interrogation quota.

Apparently, they felt MSPs would be the better for hearing their views on such minor matters as taxation and government efficiency savings.

Quiet chortling

Reactionaries, both. Don't they know about the "new politics"? Not Socialism, not even social democracy - but the sound of silence.

Of course, on the day, the new approach took one or two by surprise. Alex Fergusson in the chair appeared a mite discomfited but quickly rallied.

As the first minister rose to respond to the supplementary non-question from Ms Alexander, Mr Fergusson intervened.

Nothing, he said, had been asked. Therefore nothing was required in reply. Alex Salmond resumed his seat, chortling quietly.

When you think about it, this was a commendably radical approach by the presiding officer. After all, if he ruled out every intervention which contained zero content, then Holyrood could get through its monthly business in a morning.

And what of Ms Alexander herself? She had started with great gusto, challenging Mr Salmond about newspaper reports suggesting that extra compulsory PE in school was to be abandoned.

Rejoicing all round among the youthful occupants of the nation's couches? Alas, no. The reports, said Mr Salmond, were "completely unfounded".

'I'm havering'

Ms Alexander deftly changed tack, asserting a swift U-turn by the FM. (No doubt that is one of the new manoeuvres to be carried out during obligatory gym.)

But then, perhaps exhausted by all this compulsory exercise, Ms Alexander drew to a halt and offered "no further questions" content, she said, with the concessions she had drawn from the FM.

Not an entirely new gag, of course. In court, a QC might purr "no further questions".

Perhaps when the haggard interlocutor in the dock has owned up to everything, including original sin.

And, as First Minister, Jack McConnell once uttered the immortal line: "I'm havering, so I'll sit down." If only others would follow that advice.

But this was definitely a novel application of the technique. I look forward to its widespread use.


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  • 1. At 2:52pm on 17 Apr 2008, tammienorrielass1 wrote:

    I just switched on tv as Alex sat down after it appears 'the non-question' and I did wonder what on earth was happening!

    From the subsequent questions, it became rather evident that W A appeared to have run out of 'steam' or would that be puff at the PE.

    Not sure about new tactic - feeling more to do with not knowing how to deal with AS! Mind you it did get attention.

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  • 2. At 2:52pm on 17 Apr 2008, brianwci wrote:

    Not so much a tactical silence Brian as a tactical retreat having just been shot down in flames for getting her facts wrong....again.

    I thought Prime Minister Salmond had a good day today , he barely had to draw breath.

    Glad to see your immune system was more than a match for those poor helpless wee flu bugs.

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  • 3. At 2:56pm on 17 Apr 2008, eecoul wrote:

    First sensible thing she's done... since taking all those £950 pressies.

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  • 4. At 3:09pm on 17 Apr 2008, pattymkirkwood wrote:

    Remarkable wasn't it? How can she possibly justify not asking a question? She is not even attempting to carry out her role as an opposition leader. Labour cannot maintain this huff for much longer, surely! 10 months and counting ... ridiculous!

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  • 5. At 3:35pm on 17 Apr 2008, nursebill wrote:

    Nice one,Wendy.Such consideration for the back benchers that you allow them more time to ask their questions.Things were getting a little bit ridiculous anyway,the expectation each week on you to find the material for 3 or 4 questions.
    At least now you'll be able to focus on one or two real questions about real issues,rather than the shallow superficial ones you have been using up till now.

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  • 6. At 3:36pm on 17 Apr 2008, Colkitto wrote:

    How long will Labour put up with this humiliation ?
    I have never witnessed anything like that before. Are Labour so bereft of idea's they can only think of 2 questions ?

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  • 7. At 3:46pm on 17 Apr 2008, dubbieside wrote:

    As Alex Salmond alluded to with his first answer, that her follow up questions would be interesting, even he would not imagine that it could get this bad.

    As most people who follow FMs question time will have worked out, she does not have the mental capacity to think on her feet. Today will have proved that in spades.

    The old adage, better to stay silent and have people think you are a fool, than open your mouth and prove it beyond doubt, was maybe what she was working on today.

    Has Alex Salmond had an easier FMQT than today? If this is the best the opposition can do they should all vote for a new Holyrood election this May, then we can put them all out of their misery.

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  • 8. At 3:58pm on 17 Apr 2008, minuend wrote:

    Has Wendy Alexander's mouth finally blown a gasket? If so then the following silence will be golden to MSPs of all parties.

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  • 9. At 4:27pm on 17 Apr 2008, Nezavisimost wrote:

    This happened to a friend of mine at a high school debate and I remember how awful they felt.

    But in a national parliament?

    Luckily for her, Wendy does not seem to have the type of skin which blushes easily. as if that was me I would have died on the spot.

    Without being party political, she simply is not good enough. Her standard and style of debate is at too low a level.

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  • 10. At 4:53pm on 17 Apr 2008, GrandfatherFlump wrote:

    Wendy needs to have a quiet word with the Presiding Officer about this. (Surely the first time "Wendy" and "quiet word" have been used in the same sentence.) Why? Because there frequently seems to be an uncertainty between them over how many questions she will get.

    On one occasion, not long after she became leader, she practically begged him to allow her another question after the FM had finished what he thought was his final answer with a question for her.

    Today, she was caught off-guard not so much by the FM's unexpected answer (which she dealt with reasonably well in her second question) but by the Presiding Officer calling her again when she wasn't expecting it.

    At Westminster, the protocol is that the Leader of the Opposition is only called when he rises to his feet (or catches the Speaker's eye). He can therefore choose, depending on how he's doing, how to split his 6 questions or whether to use them all in one go.

    Wendy needs to work out a similar system and agree it with the Presiding Officer.

    Other possible strategies that might improve her performance at FMQs:

    1. Ask her questions on at least two different topics and vary it each week to keep the FM guessing. And always have a spare question up her sleeve just in case.

    2. Get Andy Kerr or Cathy Jamieson to keep a wee tally of how many questions she's got left to ask.

    3. Suggest a rule change so she only has to ask two questions. The other leaders seem to do infinitely better than she does with half the questions. And even if the FM walks all over her, at least it would be over quicker.

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  • 11. At 5:24pm on 17 Apr 2008, brigadierjohn wrote:

    Wendy should have asked: Have you given up trying to convince Scots about independence? Is this why you are introducing populist, but unaffordable and unsustainable policies? Is plan B to infuriate the English into divorcing US, on the basis that they are financing the sweet life for begging bowl Scots?
    The British nation doesn't need these petty regional squabbles. But where are the One Nation Tories?

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  • 12. At 7:16pm on 17 Apr 2008, kaybraes wrote:

    Could it be that wee Wendy was scared to ask a question while the boss was away in America trying to get somebody to recognise him.Or are we in luck and has she taken a vow of silence? It would make a change from the long suffering glance heavenwards for inspiration prior to putting her foot in it. Chick Young gets all the luck Brian , he gets to go to "fight night" at Parkhead,much more exiting than Holyrood.

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  • 13. At 7:17pm on 17 Apr 2008, johnhancock76 wrote:

    10 out of 10 for this performance?

    Surely Ms Alexander realizes that her conduct of affairs as "leader of the opposition" in the Scottish Parliament is widely regarded as seriously inadequate?

    Surely she realizes that this latest farrago will not change that opinion?

    Surely she realizes that this negative view of her has to change at some point in the not very distant future if she is to continue in this position?

    No further questions.

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  • 14. At 7:30pm on 17 Apr 2008, U11655018 wrote:

    So was this a JFK or Martin Luther King moment?

    I have to say, whoever is directing the televised broadcast at Holyrood, can you please find away to frame a shot of the WENDY where she's not running through the entire gamut of her facial emotions at hyper speed, it's quite disconcerting and fair scares the weans.

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  • 15. At 8:05pm on 17 Apr 2008, Sheneval wrote:

    Makes a change from her not answering questions

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  • 16. At 8:10pm on 17 Apr 2008, richglasgowprincess wrote:

    absolutely pathetic........she is abysmal.....go now ...your an embarrassment.

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  • 17. At 8:36pm on 17 Apr 2008, MathCampbell wrote:

    Ah! Glad to see the blogs are working now!

    Was going to comment earlier to wish you a speedy recovery from your Flu, Brian, but you seem to have it licked now.

    Talking about having things beaten down to where they no longer matter....

    Wasn't she funny?
    I like serious politics as much as the next armchair chatterer (or should that be armchair McChatterer?), but a good laugh at someone who is obviously well out of their depths, who, despite numerous opportunities is more than content to humiliate themselves in public, that's always good for a laugh.

    I know that Wendy has been in the parliament since her Dad's mate Donald Dewar got her a job, but really, she is swimming in a big pond now. As her lost-at-sea performance proved, me thinks she would benefit from a few years in a smaller pond before she tries to swim with the big fish. Perhaps a spot on Glasgow City Council would do her well; no real opposition, unscrupulous idiots for colleagues, now real responsibility, really, it could do her the world of good.

    If not, perhaps someone could donate her a map with some important locations clearly marked, like a Recruitment Agency (just the place to hire yet another spin doctor), her own rear-end (so she can locate it with both hands!), the Electoral Commission's main office (handy when declaring £950 donations for non-existent leadership campaigns), the Isle of Jersey in relation to Scotland, and should these clues not help find the "Road of Competent Leadership", then the location of her nearest JobCentre, which will come in very handy when first her Party help her "pursue other challenges", and then in 2011 when the voting public of Paisley North feel it is "best for the business if they were to part company at this time".

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  • 18. At 9:13pm on 17 Apr 2008, JohnMcDonald wrote:

    Wendy Alexander probably thought the "I haven't got a question just a finishing statement" ploy was a good wheeze, but boy is it going to come back to haunt her.

    I doubt Alex Salmond was laughing at her monumental gaffe, more likely he would have been amused by the rather silly behaviour of the Presiding Officer, but one can be assured he will come back to her folly time and time again.

    However, the important message from Parliament is not Ms Alexander's desperate need for lessons in leadership but the unshakeable grip that Alex Salmond and his administration has over the chamber.

    Of course not everything will go the SNP's way in the coming three years but I doubt there are few people wilingl to bet against them winning a clear majority at the next election.

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  • 19. At 9:23pm on 17 Apr 2008, calanais wrote:

    Brian - excellent blog. As to Wendy's performance, it is just another sign that deep-brow'd Gordon continues to lose his grip on his demesne!

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  • 20. At 09:41am on 18 Apr 2008, Glenbisset wrote:

    It was all really quite sad. Wendy Alexander is the leader of the main opposition in our Parliament, it does nothing for the standing of the Parliament to have this level of incompetence on show week in and week out. Salmond is good but not that good, it is just the others who are so useless.

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  • 21. At 10:04am on 18 Apr 2008, scot2010 wrote:

    Why is anybody surprised about her abysmal arithmetic in counting questions? She gave herself a score of 10 out of 10 after all.
    Just when you think Labour can't make themselves any more laughable, they do! At least they have no power in Holyrood now, so can't do anymore damage there. Gordy's doing his best to make them unelectable at Westminster too. Is this there cunning plan? Stay out of power for the sake of the country? I think we should be told

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  • 22. At 12:38pm on 18 Apr 2008, edinchris wrote:

    It is tragic to see the opposition doing so badly! Labour's problem is that any politicians with any ambition and skills make a beeline for Westminster, so we are left with the ones who haven't made it in Holyrood.

    Alex Salmond is a good politician, but the SNP policies are a total disaster and he should be getting ripped to shreds!!

    So far the SNP have:
    - Conned the electorate with their crazy tax plans that don't add up
    - Forced cuts on all councils in Scotland with their new "Concordat"
    - Scrapped bridge tolls leaving another black hole in their finances for building a new Forth Bridge
    - Made Scotland dependent on other countries for energy by scrapping the old power stations and refusing to build any nuclear or renewable plants (including scrapping the new windfarm on Lewis)

    It shouldn't be that hard to destroy them in a debate!

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  • 23. At 2:55pm on 18 Apr 2008, dubbieside wrote:


    It would be impossible to destroy that in debate because the points you raise are not facts only your opinion.

    Crazy tax plans that do not add up. Look at the STV poll, 80%yes to Local Income tax the Daily Record poll before it was pulled 66% yes to LIT.

    If the SNP gave the councils a higher % increase year on year than they got from Westminster, how is this a cut?

    How much of a new bridge would be paid from the tolls, next to nothing.

    Which old power stations have been scrapped? I must have missed that.

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  • 24. At 3:25pm on 18 Apr 2008, Dougie MacDuibh wrote:

    #22 Edinchris,

    Scotland is a net exporter of energy, and perfectly placed in every respect to capitalise on that position to become a leading energy ‘powerhouse’ – a potential which has so far largely gone to waste under Labour governance from both sides of the border.

    Any ‘holes’ in the Scottish Government’s finances are wholly dwarfed by the profligate sums routinely pored into projects for the sole benefit of London, and further, are a direct result of London’s overriding grip on government funding at every level in the UK – within whose restrictions the SNP government, and every local council, are forced to operate.

    As for ‘destroying’ the SNP’s policies – policies which would release us from the perpetually downward dependency cycle of Barnett funding, and set our country on course to becoming one of the richest in Europe – isn’t that what Wendy has been trying, and failing, to do for so many months?

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  • 25. At 4:06pm on 18 Apr 2008, edinchris wrote:

    dubbieside - The current opinion polls merely show how many people have been misled over the issue:

    Q: Would you like a freeze on your council tax?

    Of course people would say "yes" to that, that's because the full story hasn't come out yet. My point is that the SNP have made a lot of promises that don't add up financially. This year, they may get away with it.

    However, in a couple of years time when Councils are running out of money, a new Forth Bridge has to be paid for and Universities are running out of money, people may take a different view!

    As for energy, there is no problem today, but again, the SNP are storing up problems for the future by not doing anything to replace the current power stations by building renewable or nuclear plants. The irony is that far from making us independent, the SNP will make us more dependent on other countries in something as crucial as energy!

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  • 26. At 7:04pm on 18 Apr 2008, Peter_Fife wrote:

    Wendy Alexander is clearly out of her depth; whilst that may be music to the ears of those who support the other parties it is indicative of how devoid of talent is the top of Scottish politics.

    There is no point in having a Parliament, carbuncle that it is, if it is only inhabited by second rate politicians.

    Perhaps the best of our politicians are at Westminster, perhaps not, but if politicians who are not part of their party’s inner sanctums or cliques are not moved forward this £431,000,000 (rebate not included) or so will prove an even more of an expense too far; should I have also mentioned an expense’s claim too far?

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  • 27. At 7:05pm on 18 Apr 2008, dubbieside wrote:


    Yes I like a freeze on council tax, but I would like Local income tax better.

    Are you suggesting a new Forth Road Bridge should not be built?

    You did not answer the question, what old power stations have been scrapped.

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  • 28. At 12:16pm on 19 Apr 2008, RossDMac wrote:

    Having watched politics and parliaments closely for many years, this latest Wendy moment was just absolutely astonishing.

    Frankly, I never saw anything special about her, right from the start in 1999 - but the Labour establishment and the media built her up as something amazing. It was never clear to me why, and whenever I asked anyone for the evidence of this extraordinary talent, nobody could ever give me anything. It was just a classic example of a prevailing orthodoxy, built up by the establishment and never questioned.

    Well now, since she has been Leader, her basic lack of political skill has been exposed, week after week. It is, frankly, becoming quite cruel! She should just call it a day. The fact that Labour have no-one else to replace her is not her problem. She is at the stage now where she should think of her own quality of life - she should go and do something else.

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  • 29. At 2:29pm on 19 Apr 2008, Darthous wrote:

    "Crazy tax plans that do not add up. Look at the STV poll, 80%yes to Local Income tax the Daily Record poll before it was pulled 66% yes to LIT."

    At what point did popularity of a tax have anything to do with its finacial competance? This is typical of the nonsense we are fed by the SNP, its little wonder that Wendy dosent see the point in answering questions all she gets in response is the standard

    "it wasnae me gov"

    followed up by

    "its the previous execs fault"

    finnished with the classic

    "and while we are at it let me mention something that is nothing to do with your question but allows me to take a pop at the Brittish government"

    Alex Salmond is a smug joke the SNP has been in place for almost a year now and all they seem to have done is sink Aberdeen into the North Sea, not that its their fault there either its the other half of the administration. I wokred out why they have done nothing though its because they have no idea how to run the country instead they get civil servantsto research things nothing to do with the remit of the parliament to try and score points against Westminster.

    As for the "single biggest payout to local government" farce this 'additional' funding is nothing more than money they are no longer paying through ringfenced funding streams and are now going into the general pot at the expense of charities and partially funded social enterpises.

    Just to finnish off i am not a great Wendy-phile however she has improved vastly and the fact that she is the least experienced of the leaders and probably the most attacked then it is understandable she will take a while to settle but im sure that she will eventually settle in and start landing some blows.

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  • 30. At 8:58pm on 19 Apr 2008, richglasgowprincess wrote:

    oh c'mon wendy is awful.

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  • 31. At 12:39pm on 20 Apr 2008, jacquesmac wrote:

    Maybe the "Batphone" was not working from Gotham City .

    Ah the Broon was out of range in the former colonies


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  • 32. At 2:13pm on 20 Apr 2008, johnhancock76 wrote:

    I agree with RossDMac (28). Ms Alexander should now go away and do something else.

    I do not enjoy seeing this "seal clubbing" of the poor woman week after week. Scottish Labour should put a stop to this and try and find someone to take her place so that she can at least spend more time with her family.

    I realize this will be difficult for them, but sooner or later they will simply have to face up to it. Better to do it before Ms Alexander has a nervous breakdown before our very eyes.

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  • 33. At 2:57pm on 20 Apr 2008, LYDIA-REID wrote:

    I honestly do not think I have ever been so surprised or heard such laughter on the floor of Scottish Parliament.

    Maybe at last she is realising the stupidity of constantly asking the same question four different ways when she has been given the answer the first time round.

    I do not believe any person watching would have believed the stupidity of the " u- turn " remark. That was desperation.

    A good politician is one who can think on their feet.
    It must be hard to come up against such a charismatic leader who is changing Scotland for the better.

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  • 34. At 4:27pm on 20 Apr 2008, shotster wrote:

    I'd just like to point out, darthous #29 that things seem to have started to go wrong the minute Labour had been in power long enough that they couldn't blame the Tories any more. Blame the previous lot was a tactic taken to the extreme by Labour. They still try it when they think they can get away with it.

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  • 35. At 1:54pm on 21 Apr 2008, edinchris wrote:


    How can you say you would like a local income tax better when we don't know:
    1) Whether it will be a local tax or centrally imposed one
    2) What level the tax will be set at
    3) Which tax bands it will affect
    4) How it will work for people living in Scotland, working in England or vice versa
    5) When it will actually be introduced

    No one has any idea how much they will actually have to pay!!

    The fact is that Messrs Swinney and Salmond don't know this either, and they are desperately trying to pin all the blame for it onto Westminster!

    Of course I am not suggesting that a new Forth Bridge shouldn't be built. My question is: "Who is going to pay for it and how?" Especially after they have just got rid of the bridge toll!

    As for power stations - Cockenzie and Methil among others will come to the end of their lives in the next ten years. We need to decide now what will replace them or we will be left with an energy gap and will get all our electricity from England's new nuclear power stations. How ironic that the SNP would oversee that?!

    This is why we need someone in Parliament to stand up to Mr Salmond!

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  • 36. At 6:05pm on 21 Apr 2008, invisibleGordon wrote:

    Just watched the FM question time i recorded on Sky+.

    Wow! that was some skill shown by Wendy.
    How did she manage to keep silent during question time.

    Looks to me as another wasted opportunity for her party.

    10 out of 10 when it comes to letting down her constituents and her party.

    But then again is she not supposed to voice her constituents opinions?
    Problem is perhaps her constituent's opinion is that she is useless and rubbish at her job.

    If true it makes sense that she can't represent the views of her constituents.

    Maybe better to stay quiet!

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  • 37. At 7:56pm on 21 Apr 2008, dubbieside wrote:


    1) Both raised and spent locally. PAYE uses post codes.

    2) 3%

    3) All tax bands.

    4) See 1) re postcodes.

    5) Once Labour and their pals the tories stop trying to defend an unfair tax. A tax which incidentally they are petrified about. Just imagine a fair system based on the ability to pay in Scotland. The hated council tax with above inflation increases every year in England.

    Did you like a 60% increase in your CT over the last eight years?

    if the amounts that would have been raised from the tolls were to amount to more than 1% of the cost of the new bridge I would be very surprised, but I am no accountant.

    As Methil power station is in Dubbyside you may be surprised to learn that it has been closed for about four years. However in your original post you said scrapping power station no mention of coming to the end of their lives.

    Interestingly Longannet also in Fife has had its working life extended by a minimum of 15 years by using new technology.

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  • 38. At 3:31pm on 24 Apr 2008, edinchris wrote:

    dubbieside - In principle I have nothing against the idea of paying income tax instead of Council Tax. However, I do not think it is nearly as simple as you make out.

    There is no way that a 3p increase will fund the cost of scrapping the council tax entirely. This means the SNP have 2 options:
    1) Raising the tax by more than 3p
    2) Forcing cutbacks on local authorities

    I think the SNP knew this even before they launched their manifesto last year, but they deliberately misled people. There are also a number of loopholes that need to be ironed out with (for example) rich people owning homes in England and Scotland paying Scottish Council Tax and English Income Tax, so that, as ever the rich pay less taxes!

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  • 39. At 11:19pm on 28 Dec 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Staying zipped is the way!

    -Dennis Junior-

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